While Alanna Walls was still in elementary school, she tried to volunteer at a hospital. They told her she was too young. She tried other places, too, but got the same response. So two years ago, at the age of 10, Alanna started her own nonprofit.
As founder of Polished Girlz, Alanna, now 12, goes into hospitals, homes and even hospice’s to polish the nails of ill or disabled children. Word spread quickly of the young girl who easily speaks to children in fragile health. Soon, over a hundred volunteers had joined Polished Girlz and the phone rang steadily with requests for appointments. Earlier this month, Alanna appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and now she has requests from girls around the world to become Polished Girlz volunteers. Ellen presented the young philanthropist with a $10,000 check from Cover Girl to help her purchase more supplies.
Alanna, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, remembers her first polish session with the Down Syndrome Association of Dayton.
“Everyone was so excited,” she recalls. “I remember one girl named Olivia. She didn’t talk the first time I met her. I asked her, ‘What color?’ She didn’t say anything. I said, ‘All girls look good in pink.’ She smiled. I did pink. I said, ‘You want glitter?’ She didn’t answer. I said, ‘All girls look good in glitter.’ She smiled. When I finished, she skipped away.
“The next time, she was first,” said Alanna. “She said, ‘I want pink, purple, yellow, green and I want glitter.’ It was like she just needed to get to know us. It made me feel happy when we came back and she talked. I thought it was cool.”
Louann Lee was at that meeting with her daughter Megan, a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome. Megan has her nails done regularly since Alanna comes to the group’s monthly support meetings.
“It makes them feel special,” Lee said of the children—including boys—who get their nails done at each meeting. “Megan is getting ready to be a teenager and she loves going to school the next day and showing her nails to her friends,” said Lee, who describes Alanna as “a sweet, sweet girl” who “always takes time to say ‘hi’ to Megan and the other kids.”
Alanna thinks maybe she got her compassion from her mother, Valerie Ragland, who is a nurse.
“When I was eight, I wanted to make scarves for girls with cancer because my mom’s coworker got cancer,” said Alanna. “I love animals but I was too young to volunteer for the Humane Society. When I was 10, I was getting a whole lot of nail polish from my Nana and I would do my nails all the time. Then I thought about doing other people’s nails.”
“She said she wanted to polish the nails of every girl with cancer, every girl who was sick,” said Ragland. “I said okay, we can go as far as we can. Every girl you serve is a blessing. Everywhere we went they would ask her to come back forever.”
Ragland realized the difference Alanna was making when the director of a program for adults with different disabilities asked her to come back every week because parents were dressing their children to match their nails.
“When she got into the hospitals, that’s when we knew this was bigger than life,” Ragland said. “We had parents whose kids were doing chemotherapy, crying because they couldn’t believe someone so young was spending time with their kids.”
Meanwhile Ragland helped her daughter add to her mission to educate children about the importance of washing their hands to reduce infection.
“We do their nails and they wouldn’t want them to be dirty since they are super cool,” said Alanna. “If they wash their hands, they won’t get sick. They will get out the hospital quicker.”